As described by UNESCO, Tikal National Park is one of the few World Heritage sites that is listed both for its biodiversity and its archaeological importance. The park is located in northern Guatemala, within a large forest region called the Maya Forest, which extends into Mexico and Belize. Spanning 575 square kilometres of lush jungle, the national park is within the state-protected Maya Biosphere Reserve, renowned for being home to a large number of flora and fauna species such as howler monkeys, toucans, and parrots.
The central area of Tikal in the heart of the park occupies around 16 square kilometres, with more than 4,000 structures. This only represents a fraction of the original city-state that once was home to 60,000 people. Tikal was first settled in 800 BC and declined, like much of the Mayan Empire, around the year 900. The fascinating monuments in “downtown” Tikal speaks to the city’s prosperous past. The Great Plaza has palaces, temples, ball-game courts, and residential areas named Central Acropolis and North Acropolis. At either end of the plaza are Temple I (Temple of the Grand Jaguar), built in honour of King Moon Double Comb, and Temple II (Temple of the Masks), with a stairway guarded by two stone masks. Many of the buildings preserve the decorated surfaces common in Mayan architecture, showing stone carvings and hieroglyphic inscriptions.
The ruins of Tikal are so vast that you may need to walk 10 kilometres or more in order to visit all of the major building complexes. Most guides would recommend that you set aside two days, if you really wish to see everything. There is also a small museum, Museo Tikal, near the Jungle Lodge, the largest hotel in the Tikal area. The Jungle Lodge was originally built for the archaeologists studying Tikal, and may just be the place for you to stay if you decide to stay the night in the lush forest.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Guatemala and Central America:
The following external links may help you in planning your visit to Central America.